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Four Senate Republicans working with four Democrats to draft an immigration overhaul bill said they were not put off by recent comments from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush that appeared to oppose including a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., one of the GOP senators working on the package, said he was “a little puzzled by” Bush’s comments and noted he was slated to speak with the former governor on the matter on Wednesday.
“I frankly don’t think he is far off,” Flake said. “The statements he has made in the past and now, ... he’s not far off. He is just concerned about incentives and I think the legislation we are crafting takes care of that issue so ... I think it’s all right.”
Flake indicated that Bush, who may seek the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, reached out to him, but the Arizona lawmaker said he was happy to talk to him.
“He’s a very, very effective, articulate voice on this issue and I think we are close” in position, Flake said.
The group released a framework for legislation in January that included providing a path to citizenship. Flake said the “group of eight” is aiming to unveil its bill in late March, but that could slip into early April.
In an interview on NBC’s “Today” show Monday, where he spoke about his new book, “Immigration Wars,” Bush said he would prefer providing legal residency, rather than citizenship, because to do otherwise would reward illegal immigrants over those who sough to immigrate legally.
“If we want to create an immigration policy that’s gonna work, we can’t continue to make illegal immigration an easier path than legal immigration,” Bush said. “And so I think it’s important that there’s a natural friction between our immigrant heritage and the rule of law. This is the right place to be in that sense.”
The next day Bush seemed to take a somewhat softer stance.
“If you can craft that in law, where you can have a path to citizenship where there isn’t an incentive for people to come illegally, I’m for it. I don’t have a problem with that,” Bush told NPR on Tuesday.
The former governor’s comments echo the sentiment of some House Republicans who are exploring immigration legislation.
Some of the senators in the Senate immigration working group, including Flake, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona, recently met with House Republicans working on the issue. Flake said he was pleased with the meeting.